They exhibit remarkable properties. They never complain. And you can kill off the ones you don't like at the end of the day.
Those are just three of the reasons why genetically modified microorganisms could become some of the most valuable employees in the green revolution. Siluria, a startup that spun out of another startup called Cambrios Technologies, has proposed a way to convert natural gas into chemicals like ethylene with biologically inspired catalysts.
The catalysts, ideally, will reduce the time, energy and cost involved in producing chemicals.
Siluria differs from mainstream chemistry companies in that it derives its catalysts from nature. The company concocts genetically modified organisms -- easily several thousand species a day -- and studies their byproducts. Most of the secretions of microorganisms aren't economically desirable. But a number of them, such as wine, beer, and antibiotics, have gone on to serve as the foundation for multibillion-dollar industries.
Siluria comes out of that heritage, but it wants to take microbiology in a new direction by having microbes come up with inorganic, industrial substances. A good portion of the company's technology derives from the work conducted by Angela Belcher at MIT. Belcher and her team have devised microbes that can help generate battery components, align molecules in industrial processes or help produce semiconductor insulators. Other companies such as Genencor similarly produce enzymes from GMOs that can be used in the production of green rubber.
The downside? This isn't easy. Cambrios started out as a biological chemistry company, but found it was easier to generate chemicals the old-fashioned way: namely, by thermochemically cracking and mixing them. As reported earlier, it spun off its biological unit into Siluria.
Kleiner, Perkins, Alloy Ventures, Arch Venture Partners and Lux Capital have all invested in the company. (Side note: science nuts should follow Lux. The company has made some interesting long-range bets lately. Check out nuclear waste start-up Kurion.)